It’s history is a strange one. The phrase in it’s best known form is “That beats Banagher” but that’s not it’s only form. Some say “Well, that beats Banagher”. Then others claim that the complete phrase is “That beats Banagher, and Banagher beats the band”, while others claim it to be “That beats Banagher and Banagher beats the devil”. Another variation is “and Banagher beats the world”. Then there are some that say “That bangs Banagher.
It’s not even universally agreed that the phrase pertains to Banagher in Co. Offaly. This Irish Times article from 2001, claims the phrase to be from a town in Co. Derry and references the use of sand from a grave to “beat the devil”. Ironically, this Irish Times article from 2016 seems to link the phrase to Banagher in Co. Offaly and even credits the That Beats Banagher festival with prolonging the life of the phrase. That article though uses the “and beats the band variation”.
The Wikipedia entry on Banagher posits various explanations for the phrase including that it may refer to a wandering minstrel named Bannagher. A number of writers, even one of Banagher’s most famous literary residents (Yes Banagher has more than one) Anthony Trollope mentioned it in his writings. Also it apparently was used in the House of Lords in response to a particularly difficult to win borough. It’s unclear what Banagher this borough is referencing though. Eric Partridge’s “Dictionary of Catch Phrases” dates the phrase to before 1850.
How long will it be before people write that the phrase comes from the events of a lively festival in a town in the Irish midlands?
Come along to the festival and be a part of future history!